As the VFL season wears on and talk of potential AFL draft prospects continues to grow, it’s no surprise to see and hear Matt Hanson’s name being bandied about more and more frequently.
The two-time Werribee best and fairest entered the 2017 season under a weight of expectation given his reputation as one of the competition’s top inside midfielders, but he certainly hasn’t allowed it to drag him down.
Rather, the 22-year-old has continued to produce the goods week in and week out, his clearance work, tackling pressure, and ability to win the contested ball having placed him among the Tigers’ best most weeks and earned him the West Australian coach’s votes in his second representative outing for the VFL in May.
He has even managed to add another string to his bow this year by hitting the scoreboard almost every week with his forays into attack.
“I’d like to say [I’ve been] consistent,” Hanson says of his season so far.
“I’ve been playing a bit more forward this year, trying to get on the end of the scoreboard, and I think I’ve done that. I’ve had a goal a game or something, so it’s been good.”
In rating Hanson as one of 12 VFL players “worth a look” at next year’s draft, AFL.com.au noted Hanson’s skill execution as a factor that may have seen him overlooked in the past, but it’s an area of his game Hanson has worked hard on.
“My disposals have probably been down a bit [this year], but I think my effectiveness has gone up a lot,” he says.
“I’ve been speaking to [senior coach John Lamont] about that, so that’s something I’ve been working on over the last two years as well.
“It’s something I’ve had a lot of feedback on, so I’m just continually working on my game and seeing where it takes me.”
Any drop in disposal numbers can no doubt be attributed to the increased attention Hanson has received from opposition teams this year. While he was afforded a little more breathing room against Coburg last week – the end result being a stats sheet that included 30 disposals, 12 tackles, 11 clearances, and six inside-50s – it’s a luxury he has largely been denied this year.
It’s not hard to imagine being frustrated by the situation, but Hanson takes it all in his stride, seeing it as part and parcel of being among the competition’s elite midfielders and – more importantly – not letting it affect his ability to influence games.
“I suppose I have to take it as a back-handed compliment, to be honest,” he says.
“Sometimes, the attention isn’t great; at other times, it’s fair play. But it’s something new, and it’s something I have to get used to.
“I spoke to Johnny about that as well, and he gave me a few pointers on that, but we’ll see how we go week to week.
“If someone comes to me, I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
It would be all too easy for all the AFL talk to prove a distraction, but with Werribee entering a crucial phase of its bid to return to the finals this year, Hanson is very much focused on the task at hand.
“In season, I’m just trying to keep my head down and trying to steer clear of the talk,” he says.
“Obviously, as the season comes towards an end, you think about it more; but for now, I’m just trying to block it out and concentrate on having an impact for the team, and hopefully we go deep in finals.”
At 7-4 entering this weekend’s clash with Richmond, Werribee is well placed at this stage, but it faces a tough road ahead over the coming month thanks to fixtures against the competition’s top three teams in Box Hill, Port Melbourne, and Williamstown.
That being the case, Hanson believes his success for both him and the team as a whole hinges on an ability to perform the basics well and deal with the accumulative effects of fatigue as the season continues to wear on.
“I think it’s just preparation for now,” he says.
“There are a lot of sore boys because it’s the end of the season. That’s natural, so getting on top of our recovery is a must.
“[It’s about] turning up to training and doing everything right, getting out before and after and doing extra skills, things like that.
“And we’ve just got to start better than we have been. I think the last four or five games, we’ve lost each first quarter, so we need to get back on top of that and then just keep winning.”
Hanson and the rest of the Werribee team kick off against Richmond at 2pm on Saturday at Frankston Park.